Ajax miss their chance to go top of the Eredivisie

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Ajax will have gone into their winter break focused on the time they’d get a chance to overtake PSV Eindhoven. Sitting two points behind the league leaders with a superior goal difference, they were in the perfect position to take advantage of any mishaps by Mark van Bommel’s men.

They won’t have expected that opportunity to come as early as the first weekend back. However, the door was opened for them as an injury time equaliser from FC Emmen’s Nicklas Pedersen made the score 2-2 against the champions. Ajax went into their match against Heerenveen at the Johan Cruijff Arena knowing that a win would take them top of the Eredivisie.

They didn’t seem phased by the challenge in the early stages, as they took the lead just 13 minutes into the match. Schone played a short corner before getting the ball back and crossing it into the box. Dusan Tadic found himself completely unmarked just outside the six yard box and side footed the ball first time, sending it beyond goalkeeper Warner Hahn.

This was just the beginning of a whirlwind four minutes, as Heerenveen equalised within a minute. Sam Lammers –who himself is on loan from PSV- received the ball and turned. He managed to force his way past Daley Blind and hit it into the bottom corner to equalise.

Ajax were ahead again just two minutes later. Blind played a cross field pass to Tadic, who played a one-two with Hakim Ziyech. Upon receiving the return pass he got into the box and dinked the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper, restoring his side’s lead.

The score was made 3-1 before the half an hour mark due to calamitous defending from Heerenveen. Schone delivered the ball into the box from a free kick. It wasn’t particularly threatening until Stijn Schaars smashed his clearance up into the air, rather than up the pitch. Hahn came out of his goal in an attempt to retrieve the ball, but he completely misjudged it and took himself out of the game. As the ball dropped it landed on the head of Matthijs de Ligt and went into the goal via a deflection off Pelle van Amersfoort.

The home side were offered a chance to all-but secure the win in the last moments of the first half. They were awarded a penalty when Lucas Woudenberg was caught holding onto Donny van de Beek’s shirt. Tadic, who’d put in a faultless performance up until this point, stepped up to take the penalty, with a hat trick on offer. He hit the ball towards the centre of the goal, close enough to the goalkeeper for him to claw it away with his feet after diving. The half time whistle followed shortly, with Ajax in the driving seat but disappointed to not have put the game to bed.

That feeling of disappointment turned into worry just six minutes into the second period. Lammers was allowed to run forward with the ball and worked his way to the edge of the box. Once there he let off a strike which made its way into the bottom corner.

The scores were made level five minutes later. Ajax were caught over committing bodies, with both centre backs up the opposite end of the pitch. Heerenveen hit them with a counter attack and Mitchell van Bergen was able isolate Daley Sinkgraven. He twisted and turned away from the makeshift left back before firing home to make it 3-3.

Ajax came close to making a quick reply, with Kasper Dolberg having a header saved well and Ziyech hitting the post with a free kick. Heerenveen were almost given an opportunity of their own as a penalty decision was taken to VAR after Konstantinos Lamprou had collided with Lammers while attempting to punch the ball away, but the penalty wasn’t given.

It was Ajax who scored next, regaining their lead in the 83rd minute. Tadic had the ball on the left hand side and managed to work enough space to get a cross into the box. He hit it towards the back post where Klaas Jan Huntelaar –who’d only been on the pitch for four minutes- pulled away from Kik Pieri. Once the ball reached the substitute he stopped it dead with his first touch before firing it in off the post with his second. As it stood Ajax were 4-3 up and destined for top spot.

It seemed as though that story would remain, though that changed in the first minute of added time. A corner was sent into the box and Pieri made up for letting Huntelaar evade him by losing his man and flicking the ball past the goalkeeper.

Ajax almost got themselves back into the lead in the 94th minute, but luck wasn’t on their side as Schone’s shot bounced off the goalkeeper, onto a defender and back into his arms. As the final whistle blew, setting the 4-4 scoreline in stone, Ajax’s warn out men dropped to the floor in disappointment with the knowledge they’d missed their chance to go top.

They’ll have a chance to get revenge over Heerenveen, as they face them again on Thursday, this time in the KNVB Beker quarter final.

A look at Barca’s possible UCL opponents

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Lionel Messi issued a clarion call at the very beginning of the season where the Champions League was concerned.

That was the priority for Barcelona. No messing about, a stated aim to take home the trophy once again.

Drawn in the ‘group of death,’ the Blaugrana sailed through it, but now the real business begins.

Barcelona have six possible opponents they could draw in the Round of 16… Continue reading

Frenkie de Jong: Manchester City hot on Ajax talent

It’s that time of the season again where the international break allows the media to perhaps give fans a false sense of hope with ludicrous transfer rumours. But if they are to be believed then Manchester City could well find themselves ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid to land Ajax and The Netherlands defender/midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

The Premier League champions are ready to pay £61 million for Frenkie de Jong who could be a likely replacement for the ageing Fernandinho. The 21-year-old has also garnered interest from City’s neighbours, Manchester United however, the prospect of playing under Pep Guardiola as opposed to Jose Mourinho surely is a no brainer for the youngster. Continue reading

Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt – The Ajax duo who are wanted at the Camp Nou

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Barcelona have spent most of the La Liga 2018/19 season sitting confidently and dominantly in first place, though, they are only one or two points ahead of the likes of Deportivo Alaves and Sevilla.

Enersto Valverde’s side beat Real Madrid on the weekend in quite some fashion, as the main man in Luis Suarez stepped up Lionel Messi’s absence and notched up a hat-trick as the Blaugrana beat Los Blancos 5-1 at home. The hosts were a couple of steps ahead of the visitors from the start of the match till the end, which also led Real Madrid’s hierarchy with no choice but to sack Julen Lopetegui.

However, the side still seem to be out of their depth and unconvincing when their key individuals are either injured or suspended. Due to this, Barcelona are not able to effectively flex their ability or strength around the pitch like they have been doing so over the last decade in Europe and in Spain.

With the main talks being on the lack of depth in defence and midfield, Barcelona are reportedly aiming for reinforcements in both areas during the January transfer window, with the latest reports stating that they are targeting a certain duo from AFC Ajax in Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt.

According to the local and reliable reports in Spain, they believe that Enersto Valverde and the Barcelona board have been keeping tabs on both De Jong and De Ligt since the start of the season.

With no further ado, it’s time to look at the duo who play for the same club and country…

Frenkie De Jong

Regarded as one of the most impressive and talented central midfielders in Europe right now, Frenkie De Jong is proving himself as an individual that is calm, cool and collected no matter which position he plays in. He has revealed his ability and composure to be able to play as a defensive midfielder and even as a centre-back, showing that he is certainly ready to play at the highest level.

Thriving from his intelligent reading of the game and the types of passes he can produce, he has a huge influence on Ajax’s aesthetically pleasing style of play and is one of the many reasons to why the Netherlands international team are expected to return to the position where they belong.

Looking at his game as a whole, De Jong has successfully completed 430 out of the 467 passes he has attempted so far this season, clearly implying that his technical ability is top notch and he has the tranquility to pass with both feet. The youngster is always positive when he is in possession of the ball, especially when he has the rock solid confidence to pick out a short or long pass when needed.

Alongside his number of abilities, the only concerning weakness is that he is a vital individual towards the way his side plays and it does come with a risk of being caught out of a defensive position, unless a teammate can step into his role if necessary. However, game after game, De Jong’s experience and understanding of the game will allow him to be at the right place at the right time.

Having produced 16 interceptions and 13 tackles in eight league appearances, the Arkel-born central midfielder is certainly managing his way of influencing the game on and off the ball. The 21-year-old has also shown the ability to lead the line in his own way, making him a player that is potentially worthy of becoming a captain in the future, whether that is at Ajax or at another club in Europe.

The Eredivise side are not expected to sell the midfielder during the January transfer window, as a deal of sorts could cause some harmony issues within the dressing room whilst it would take the Dutch club a number of weeks to a month to find the perfect replacement for Frenkie De Jong.

Matthijs De Ligt

When looking at the defenders Barcelona’s squad, both Gerard Pique and Thomas Vermaelen are coming towards their final years of their footballing career whilst Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti are regarded as the two individuals the club can rely on in the long run. On the other hand, the La Liga giants would have a complete backline if they are able to bring in centre-back Matthijs De Ligt.

Pique and Umtiti are the regular starters at the heart of defence for Valverde’s men, however, the potential arrival of De Ligt would allow the team to be much more composed and dominant in possession of the ball. His burst of pace would also be helpful on both sides of the pitch, from being able to intercept or tackle as the last man defender to being utilised as a ball-playing centre-back.

The 19-year-old has already been linked with the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid and many other well-known European clubs, clearly showing that he has the potential to be one of the best players within his position one day. Though, it will be up to the player himself to personally decide for when he is ready to make the big move to one of the best clubs in Europe.

De Ligt’s breakthrough season at Ajax came during the 2016/17 campaign, where he was producing remarkable displays as well as becoming a key member for the club that went on to reaching the UEFA Europa League finals. He finished that season with an impressive figure of over 20 appearances in all competition, which was a total dream come true for someone who was only 17 at the time.

Since then, the rising youngster from Leiderdorp has become a popular person as he is regularly watched by a large number of European football supporters. Furthermore, his incredible intelligence mentally and tactically is simply one of a kind, something that cannot be easily said for majority of the defenders that play in Europe, making him a generational talent as a complete centre-back.

Given that Matthijs De Ligt has all the tools he needs in order to thrive in La Liga, a move from Ajax to Barcelona during the January transfer window should not be ruled out all. With President Josep Maria Bartomeu and the rest of the board looking to constantly be ahead of the other European clubs on and off the pitch, they could surely aim to make a statement signing in two months time.

Marcus Rashford should be happy to be at Manchester United

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Marcus Rashford is making the headlines again after scoring for England this week in their famous 3-2 victory over Spain in Seville. The goal mixed with the win has put some media into hyper drive about the 20 year old, that he is the next best player to emerge from England, but is that so?

Rashford does have a lot to be thankful for and most of that praise has to be lauded onto Louis van Gaal, the previous Manchester United coach. It was van Gaal that saw potential in the youngster and promoted him to the first team and played him. Perhaps van Gaal was reminded of a young Patrick Kluivert and his youthful Ajax team who stunned European football with a superb Champions League win in 1995.

If it wasn’t for van Gaal, Rashford may be playing in the English Championship because Jose Mourinho the current coach of United surely would not have spotted him in the youth set up. Mourinho has a habit of only catching the worlds superstars and rarely goes for youth, tending to loan these players out.

Rashford has proved over the last 3 seasons with United to be a good player but not a great one. Although we must take into account his age we could also look over to France and see that Kylian Mbappe is a year younger and has scored many more goals and won more trophies including the World Cup this summer. Mbappe is a special player and already being touted as a great. Of course we shouldn’t put too much pressure on Rashford but pundits suggesting that the player is a great one is wide of the mark and they are only repeating history and hyping up players to world class level when in reality they are not.

Rashford has never scored more than 7 Premier League goals in a season and this was from 35 games. His total for United is 33 goals from 130 games. If he was in his mid 20s this would be a poor record. But he should get a pass given his age.

No one is suggesting that Rashford is a poor player but the truth is Rashford should be happy that he is playing for a top 4 side in one of the strongest leagues in the world. As for Jose Mourinho he has worked with some of the best forwards in the game and though he can’t publicly say it he will feel that Rashford is not up to the level for his age just yet. Of course there is room for improvement, and for the advancement of Rashford’s career, let’s hope he is given the time to go and prove it before being hyped before his time.

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Davinson Sanchez – Spurs’ Perfect Answer to Transfer Criticism

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As Premier League clubs continue to rally the troops and reinforce their squads before the transfer window slams shut in just over a week’s time, one club to have been hugely criticised during the current period of business has been Tottenham Hotspur.

Last season’s runners-up could be forgiven for being happy with their squad of course – they finished second by a very comfortable margin to the tune of eight points ahead of bronze medallists Man City. However, every club around the top of the table have brought plenty more bodies in – while Spurs haven’t set the world on fire at all in their dealings so far. Continue reading

Cillessen and ter Stegen to compete to become Barca’s no.1

Euro 2016

For the last two seasons, Claudio Bravo has been Barcelona’s first choice goalkeeper in La Liga.

Brilliant Bravo bids farewell

During that time the 33-year-old helped Blaugrana achieve great success, whilst at the end of Barca’s 2014-2015 campaign, in addition to receiving the Ricardo Zamora Trophy for being the best goalkeeper in La Liga, he was also named in the division’s team of the season.

As such Bravo has played an extremely important role for Luis Enrqiue’s side over recent times, but will no longer do so, after being sold to Manchester City for 18m.

ter Stegen and Cillessen chief candidates to succeed Bravo

The departure of the Chilean internationalist centurion, who has made 106 appearances for La Roja, from Camp Nou, leaves Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jasper Cillessen competing to become Bravo’s successor as Barcelona’s first choice goalkeeper.

Whilst ter Stegen is now beginning his third season with the reigning La Liga champions, they have just signed Cillessen from Ajax for €14.9m in order to compensate for the sale of Bravo to Manchester City.

ter Stegen – Barca’s cup competition specialist

Since joining Barcelona from Borussia Monchengladbach for €12m in May 2014, despite Enrique preferring to field Bravo ahead of him in La Liga, ter Stegen has played all of the club’s Champions League and Copa Del Rey games. Whilst instrumental in Barcelona’s 2014-2015 Champions League success, ter Stegen has also been vital for the Catalan giants as they have won successive Copa Del Rey titles.

As such the 24-year-old 6-times capped German internationalist has proven himself as being capable of handling the considerable pressures associated with playing for Barcelona, whilst his Dutch counterpart Cillessen is still to learn of those.

Cillessen shines for club and country

After signing for Ajax in August 2011 from NEC Nijmegen for a fee in the region of 3m euros, Cillessen displaced Kenneth Vermeer as de Godenzonen’s first choice goalkeeper at the start of the 2013-2014 season, when he helped the club win the last of their 33 Eredivisie titles.

In doing so Cillessen performed brilliantly, with that being acknowledged by Holland’s then international manager Louis Van Gaal, who made the 27-year-old his first choice goalkeeper for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Subsequently Cillessen played each of his country’s games at the tournament, as they finished in third place, although he was infamously substituted for Tim Krul at the end of extra time in Holland’s quarter final against Costa Rica.

With that game entering it’s 121st minute and the score line locked at 0-0, Van Gaal made the decision to introduce Krul for the impending penalty shoot – out, which turned out to be an inspired choice since the 28-year old saved two Costa Rican spot kicks as Holland won 4-3. Ironically following Cillessen’s move to Barcelona, in order to replace him, Ajax manager Peter Bosz has signed Krul on a season long loan from Newcastle United.

Ultimately Krul faces an extremely difficult challenge to emulate his predecessor’s superb performance levels for Ajax, which were recognised as Cillessen was named as the club’s player of the year for both 2015 and 2016.

Dutch – German rivalry set to evolve for no.1 spot at Barca 

By taking into consideration Cillessen’s past achievements for both club and country, it is rational to surmise that Barcelona have undoubtedly acquired a top class goalkeeper, whilst they have one such other player in the guise of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Therefore during the upcoming season, ter Stegen and Cillessen are set to compete keenly to become Barcelona’s first choice goalkeeper, although the German is potentially the favourite to occupy the role, given his prior experience of playing for the club. Nevertheless Cillessen also represents an excellent goalkeeping option to Enrique.

Ajax’s Champions League hopes hang in the balance

Euro 2016

Peter Bosz’s managerial reign of Ajax has commenced indifferently, as the four time European Champions have produced a mixed set of performances in his first six games in charge.

After three games of the Eredivisie season Ajax are in eighth place, having amassed four points, whilst in the third round of qualifying for the Champions League they beat PAOK Salonika 3-2 on aggregate to set – up a play-off with FC Rostov to reach the group stages of the competition.

Subsequently Ajax’s hopes of achieving that hang precariously in the balance, after they drew the first leg of their tie with FC Rostov 1-1 at the Amsterdam ArenA.

Early in that encounter, the Russian side, who defeated Anderlecht 4-2 on aggregate in the previous round, registered a vital away goal, as the Ecuadorian internationalist Christian Noboa scored with a fine 22-yard free kick.

Nevertheless Bosz’s side proceeded to dominate the game in terms of both chances created and possession. Despite that although they equalised through a Davy Klaassen penalty shortly before half time, Ajax were unable to find a winning goal, which leaves them facing an extremely difficult challenge to qualify for the group stage of this season’s Champions League.

Rostov in fine form

In order to stand any chance of doing so, Ajax must score at least once at the Olimp-2 Stadium, where FC Rostov have not lost in 21 competitive matches since 2 May 2015 when they lost 1-0 to Terek Grozny.

Currently under the guidance of caretaker manager Dimitri Kirichenko, who previously played for the club as a striker, Rostov are fifth in the Russian Premier League after four games of the 2016-2017 season and in fine form, following a comprehensive 3-0 home win over Tom Tomsk.

Bosz must galvanise Ajax players to pass Rostov test

Conversely Ajax’s most recent Eredivisie game finished in a 2-1 home defeat to Willem II, which ended a 23 competitive game unbeaten run for Bosz’s side.

As such the 52-year-old former Maccabi Tel Aviv manager, who as a midfielder was capped eight times by the Netherlands and spent the best part of his playing career with Feyenoord, will require to galvanise his players so that they are suitably prepared to compete with a very efficient FC Rostov side.

The Rostov Oblast state-owned club represent formidable opponents particularly in Russia , where Ajax have never won, as they lost on both of their two previous visits to the country.

Specifically Ajax lost 3-1 at home and 1-0 away to Spartak Moscow in the 1997/1998 UEFA Cup Quarter Final, whilst the two teams met again in the last 16 of the 2010/2011 UEFA Europa League, which ended in a 4-0 aggregate triumph for Spartak after they won 1-0 in Amsterdam and 3-0 in Moscow.

Those results combined with Ajax’s 1-1 draw against FC Rostov, mean that de Godenzonen have never beaten Russian opposition in a competitive match.

Significant challenge facing Ajax to qualify for group stages of Champions League

As such taking that into consideration, along with Rostov’s excellent home form over the past 15 months, makes it rational to suggest that, in order to achieve the result that they require at the Olimp-2 stadium to qualify for the group stages of this season’s Champions League Ajax face an extremely difficult challenge.

Nevertheless Bosz’s side are undoubtedly capable of conquering that, since they passed a similarly stern assignment in the competition’s previous by beating PAOK Salonika 2-1 in Thessalonaki, Greece, to secure a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Ultimately by producing another accomplished away European performance Ajax can give themselves a great chance of overcoming FC Rostov, whilst the Russian side will also be confident of securing the result they need to embark upon a maiden UEFA Champions League group stage campaign.